Where Blythewood Runners’ Dreams Come True

Blythewood running buddies Stephanie Nace-Smith, Tracy Corson, Carla Young and Stacie Mandrell finished the Goofy half marathon (holding hands) in 2.29. Stephanie and Stacie also ran the whole marathon.

When I took up running, I wanted my first big race to be a marathon. When my wife, May, began running last year, she wanted her first big race to be a half marathon. And that’s how it starts, a grandiose goal to run a race that dreams are made of. For us and seven other Blythewoodians, those dreams came true last January where dreams are supposed to come true — at Walt Disney World – during the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend.

Mickey, Donald and Goofy showed true hospitality, turning over the keys to the Kingdom to over 46,000 runners for the 20th annual running of the Disney World Donald Duck Half Marathon, Mickey’s Marathon and the Goofy Challenge (a combination of both runs.) Keeping with Disney’s tradition of creating an awesome and unforgettable experience, Mother Nature was equally hospitable, providing race-time temps in the 60s under clear and calm skies.

For Jimmy Sauls and me, it was the third Disney marathon and second Goofy Challenge. Other Blythewood runners included Carla Young, her sister Tracy Corson, Stacy Mandrell, Stephanie Nace-Smith, Paul and Brenda Pepin and May.

For those of us running the marathon we also had to run the half marathon the day before. Yep, 39.3 miles in two days, but that was OK. After all, we were at the Magic Kingdom where anything is possible.

Donald Duck kicked off the half marathon on Saturday morning with 25,000 runners setting off on an unforgettable venture at 5:30 a.m. to bursts of fireworks and Rock-and-Roll music that would make even the best of the Fourth of July celebrations pale. We started on the roads near EPCOT and headed toward the Magic Kingdom.

“I thoroughly enjoy running up Main Street USA, as you really feel the crowd support,” said Sauls.

May and I entered at just the right time, getting to experience a beautiful sunrise as we ran through Cinderella’s castle. After departing the Magic Kingdom, we made our way toward EPCOT where we passed the Showcase of Nations, a grand gospel choir and thousands of screaming fans bringing runners home to the finish line. We had some fun company the entire race, not to mention running alongside Paul and Brenda Pepin wearing their Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes. Paul summed it up best: “This was the most fun I’ve had running in years! The Disney people know how to put on an event and they spared no expense or effort. I’ll look forward to this again next year!”

For most of us, the half marathon finish line meant time to celebrate and party, but for Jimmy, Stacie, Stephanie and me, the party was short-lived as we had the marathon the following day. Sounds Goofy, be we did it.

Sunday morning came very early for the marathon runners. With a 5:30 a.m. start, most runners had to get up around 2 a.m. to make their way to the staging area near EPCOT and then make the 25-minute walk to the corrals. Leave it to Disney to flawlessly moved 25,000 people without much effort.

The weather was equally as beautiful on Sunday as it was on Saturday. The course would take us through the Magic Kingdom, around the speedway then down to the Animal Kingdom where we were treated to a behind the scenes look at the various animal housing facilities. Upon exiting Animal Kingdom, we made our way to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and took a lap around the warning track inside Champion Stadium before making our way to Hollywood Studios and ending our adventure where it all started, at EPCOT.

During both days, runners were treated to cheers from a host of Disney characters including Captain Jack Sparrow, Cinderella, Chip and Dale and Peter Pan. Equally impressive were the thousands of volunteers who lined the course for the entire race cheering us by name. Even at the toughest moments of the race, we were always made to feel like a special guest.

For those considering running a half or full marathon and want to combine it with a family vacation, I strongly recommend the Disney World events. The pageantry, friendliness, attention to detail and loads of fun make this race a definite must do.

For me, the 2013 marathon was incredibly special. I had trained all year for this race and was looking to set a personal record. I completed my first Disney marathon in 3:59:37. Last year I finished in 3:57:37 with my goal for this year being 3:55. With nearly perfect conditions and raw determination, I finished in 3:26:29, besting my PR by 22 minutes! I finished 11:29 shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, something that prior to the race was beyond my wildest dreams but is now my goal for next year.

I guess dreams do come true even for the Goofiest of us at Disney World.

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